UnifiEd Student Voice Team

Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the UnifiEd Student Voice Team has been advocating for school transformation since 2014. Focused on improving K-12 learning in Hamilton County, students have worked with parents, school board members, educators and others to affect classrooms, create school programs, and drive policy change affecting thousands of learners.

Action and Outcomes

Student-created surveys were developed and administered by the Student Voice Team to over 450 Hamilton County high school students in the 2018-19 school year. These showed that students’ top priority for school improvement was in the area of mental health.

For instance, during the summer of 2019 the UnifiEd Student Voice Team researched how to implement best practices in mental health in Hamilton County Schools. At the beginning of the school year, the students’ advocacy resulted in the creation of a student support center in a local school.

In 2001, the Hamilton County School Board added a student member to their board. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, students from UnifiEd’s training programs Student Voice Team joined the board, ensuring student voice was empowered and capable of positively impacting district policy-making. Before then, the Student Voice Team worked with the school board attorney to update the system-wide bullying and harassment policy.

Approximately 30 high school students from across HCDE have been trained as organizers within their schools by UnifiEd staff.

Student Voice Team member at STEM School successfully advocated for the adoption of bylaws for its Student Support Senate to clarify the group’s role and bring awareness of its purpose to more students.

Students were a significant portion of respondents to the APEX equity survey, which identified the most urgent inequities in our schools and informed the work being undertaken by APEX Action Teams.

After the Student Voice Team successfully implemented a student Principal Advisory Council at Lookout Valley Middle and High School, students continued working on implementing Principal Advisory Councils in other Hamilton County High Schools, too.

Through the years, the UnifiEd Student Voice Team impacted individual schools and the district, making student voice a driving force for school improvement throughout Chattanooga and beyond.

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Student Voice in California

Map of Student Voice in California by SoundOut

Recently, I spoke with a friend and colleague in California about student voice in her state. Sharing the many, many examples on the top of my head of what is happening in the state, I am reminded of the positive, powerful potential of students who are making change in their schools everywhere. California has experienced that transformation for decades now, and I want to highlight some of what’s happened there.

Finally, for three years from 2012 to 2014, the National Student Power Convergence drew together high school and college student organizers across the country in Oakland. Dream Defenders, Moral Monday arrestees, high schoolers resisting school closings and police brutality, statewide organizers from Ohio, New York, California and beyond came together to trade tactics and experiences, elevate disenfranchised voices, link struggles from different regions to build something bigger.

Students in Oakland created a high school. Alternatives in Action High School was founded in 2001 when students worked with adults to design, write, and submit a petition for a charter school to the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees. After a unanimous vote of approval, the school opened. The school’s Charter was subsequently renewed again by unanimous vote of the Alameda Unified School Board in 2006 and 2011.

SoundOut has worked in several schools throughout California, too. The San Rafael City Schools has hosted the SoundOut Summit, a school improvement opportunity designed to empower students to transform the learning, teaching and leadership at schools in their district. We partnered with a national nonprofit called Generation YES to provide Powerful Student Leader training at 50 middle schools in the Central Valley, and we provided technical assistance to Oakland Public Schools to build their Meaningful Student Engagement program.

There is a lot more history in California, including student voice activism and Meaningful Student Involvement in K-12 schools going back to the 1920s and 30s. However, I’ll cover that in separate article. For now, please share anything you know about in California in the comments section, and share this article with your networks!

Statewide Student Voice

There are student voice programs, activities and organizations working across the entire state of California. They’ve had powerful successes, made lasting change, and created foundations for education transformation that will be felt for generations.

In June 2018, California Governor Edmund Brown signed the 2018-2019 California state budget. That budget includes $28.3 million for the Local Control Funding Formula, which supports student voice in district planning statewide. Lobbied for heavily by students, its a direct victory for student voice across the state. School districts are now required to engage student voice in budgeting. This effort started in 2014 when the Californians for Justice campaign led a statewide student advocacy movement to make room for student voice in local funding decisions through the Local Control Funding Formula. Their influence was felt in the victory for student voice that happened in June 2018. Succeeding, the campaign succeeded in making room for student voice in every district statewide. The campaign also promoted understanding about student voice, student rights and more.

More than a decade ago, I found research about students on school boards in California from the 1970s. Turns out students have been voting on the California State School Board for more than thirty years, and they’ve been members of California district school boards for more than 50 years. The California Association of Student Councils has been rallying student voice and driving Meaningful Student Involvement in the California Legislature for more than a decade. They also train students about education and school reform, and constantly advocate for student involvement in state-level decision-making. They operate several programs for the state’s education system, including theStudent Advisory Board on Education (SABE) and Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education (SABLE).

Local Student Voice

There are local-level student voice organizations, campaigns and activities transforming schools throughout California. Illustrating the meaningful involvement of students throughout public education, these entities have taken student voice to new heights in terms of sustainability, substance and outcomes. Some of these programs include:

  • APYPAL, or Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy & Leadership, which has facilitated leadership development of more than 450 youth leaders and has engaged over 4,500 young people in grassroots education campaigns.
  • Kids First Oakland, which has a youth leadership program called Representing Educated Active Leaders Having A Righteous Dream, or REAL HARD. For more than a decade, students in REAL HARD have focused on transforming school culture with students as culture drivers who implement shared values and create respectful learning spaces.
  • SC-YEA, or South Central Youth Empowered through Action in Los Angeles. They are developing the next generation of activists capable of leading their peers and impacting public policy in their schools and community. By hosting chapters on high school campuses across South LA, SCYEA aims to amplify the voices of students in education decision-making. They launched a campaign to hold schools accountable for A-G course requirements, and also recently pressured the local school district to repair and build new schools with a $2.4 billion school bond, and to add $153 million dollars for additional school repairs previously overlooked in their community.
  • Youth Together works throughout the Bay Area to empower student voice in broad ways that impact students in schools everyday. One of their most recent projects was a Listening Campaign led by students to highlight issues students face in schools right now, and to develop student-led solutions to those issues.
  • Coleman Advocates organizes low-income high school students of color in San Francisco through a program called Youth Making A Change. Since 1991, thousands of students have led advocacy efforts to stand for and win innovative programs for San Francisco’s high schools and students. Their successes include Wellness Centers and SF Youth Vote, as well as landmark policies to close the racial achievement gap.

Other organizations that engage students in actively transforming K-12 schools include Innercity Struggle in LA and the Alliance for Education Justice, which works statewide. There are also student-driven school transformation activities being led by California Youth Connection; Sacramento ACT; RYSE Center (Richmond); People Acting in Community Together (San Jose); Families in Schools (Los Angeles), and; Khmer Girls in Action (Long Beach).

More Student Voice

There are powerful activities happening across the entire state, some helping every student in every community; others focusing on Black, Brown, Latinx, and Asian Pacific Islanders; while others help GBLTQQ students and others, too.

One of the most systemic efforts happening in California today is in the Oakland Public Schools, where they have had a number of efforts focused on what they call “Meaningful Student Engagement” on and off for more than a decade. Some of their programs include Meaningful Student Engagement Leadership Teacher Community of Practice, where Leadership class teachers support each other in fostering the conditions for students to be meaningfully engaged in shaping school culture and climate; an All City Council (ACC) Governing Board, which seeks to amplify student voice by serving as a bridge between adult decision makers and the student body, and; Youth Voice with Continuous Improvement, through which the district provides technical assistance with the formation and democratic election of School Governance Teams. They support middle and high school students to participate on School Site Councils and the District-Wide LCAP Student Advisory, too.

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StudentVoicesNUA™

StudentVoicesNUA™ is a program of the National Urban Alliance. It provides students with opportunities to co-create with teachers innovative curriculum-related projects using 21st century technology, to increase their involvement in professional development, to mediate literacy and learning strategies for parents, and to participate in leadership discussions and decision-making. An exciting part of StudentVoicesNUA™ is having students co-teach instructional units with their teachers.

StudentVoicesNUA™ have included student-produced publications, radio shows and videos; lessons plans co-created and presented by students; debating and public speaking; electronic field trips; student-led convocations; and podcasts.

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The Neutral Zone

In 1998, teens in Ann Arbor, Michigan worked together with adult allies to form a nonprofit youth center called The Neutral Zone. Driven and centered by young people and their interests, the organization has made powerful inroads for youth throughout their area. In 2012, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) approached the organization about infusing student voice across the state through the agency’s Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) initiative.

Targeting the lowest performing high schools statewide in Michigan, the program sought to raise levels of academic achievement through new school reform programs. Neutral Zone provided training and coaching to support teams of both staff and students from six pilot high schools. The goals were to have each team research school issues related to their school reform efforts, plan and implement a project that addresses one of the issues and to create an advisory body that could support sustained student involvement.

Over the last three years, Neutral Zone has provided intensive support for 20 high schools statewide focused on training and technical assistance on student voice. Their work has been lauded by the MDE as a success, with reports of student-driven projects that engage students deeply coming in from across the state.

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Cities in Schools Program

In modern schools... Assessment happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at SoundOut.org.A teacher with the Cities in Schools program in New York City engaged her students as evaluators in order to transform her practice.

She wanted to provide students with the experience of being in charge while helping them to develop skills in written and oral communication and logic. Believing students must be treated- and must see themselves- as working evaluators, the teacher also believed staff members could get usable information about their programs from student evaluators. Throughout, she assured students their evaluations were real and would be used in the programs.

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  • Campell, P., Edgar, S. and Halsted, A.L. (October 1994) “Students as Evaluators: A Model for Program Evaluation,” Phi Delta Kappan, 76, 2.

Student Voice Initiative

In modern schools... Leadership happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at SoundOut.org.The Student Voice Initiative, or SVI, is a national organization in Canada that works with school boards to strengthen student engagement in Canada.

From the perspective that students on school boards are the ultimate solution for effective student voice, SVI provides tailored expertise and action planning to help boards, districts and divisions build and improve robust student engagement models. They also share the stories of exceptional student engagement successes across the country to encourage change in education systems across the globe.

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Mississippi State Superintendent Advisory Committee

From 1998 through 2002, the Mississippi State Superintendent Advisory Committee included 23 students. With student advisors in grades 10 through 12 grades, they served two year terms.

Each year, the State Superintendent requested that each member of his Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, composed of 23 public school superintendents, selected a student member to serve on the State Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee.

The group was informal and met periodically with the State Superintendent to discuss education issues in the state. The State Superintendent of Education voluntarily sought this student voice. There was no legislation in Mississippi mandating student input.

Students were eligible for appropriate state reimbursement.

The State Superintendent of Education requested diverse candidates, and efforts were made to include students who are not always presented with honors or awards.

Members included students from vocational organizations (FFA, FBLA, etc.), students with varying GPA’s, and students from varying gender and racial categories.

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  • No additional information is available at this time. Please share anything you know about this activity in the comments section below.

Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council

The Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council, or ISBE SAC, is a group of 16 high school students from across the state to bring student concerns to the attention of the State Board of Education. The ISBE SAC was established in 1975.

The ISBE SAC is meant to be a diverse group of students from across the state who have demonstrated a strong work ethic, the ability to think creatively and work well in groups. Membership is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors attending a public high school in Illinois.

The SAC members represent student concerns and can provide thoughts on ISBE’s existing and proposed programs, policies and regulations. The student members also choose a special project to research and present before the State Board of Education at the end of the school year.

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Organization of Ontario Secondary Students

The Organization of Ontario Secondary Students, or OOSS, is a network of students who want to address education issues in Ontario and beyond.

Activities

The OOSS has one goal: to push students past what they thought was possible. We know there can be many hurdles ranging from school to finances with anything one does. We want to ensure that every student is successful in respect to their passion, be it science, business, social activism, athletics, sleeping, or anything else of their choosing.

Currently, OOSS is placing a special focus on reaching more schools across Ontario, strengthening the student-School board relation, improving organization and challenging ambassadors to take on more leadership opportunities within their region.

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California State Board of Education Student Member

The California State Board of Education Student Member has been a fixture since 1969. They have been full-voting members since 1983.

History

Starting in 1969, the SBE appointed a student to serve as a board advisor. In 1983, the Legislature and Governor granted the student full participation and voting rights.

Eligibility

In order to become student members of the SBE, students must be:

  • Any student enrolled in a California public high school who will be a senior in good standing
  • Be available to attend a statewide conference in November
  • Serve a one-year term from August through July
  • Attend all SBE meetings held during that time, which includes a minimum of two days every other month for approximately six meetings per year
  • Vote on educational policies vital to California’s students and schools

According to the State School Board of Education, the position provides a wonderful opportunity to influence educational policy in areas such as curriculum, standards, assessments, accountability, and Local Control Funding Formula.

Process

  • California law requires that school district governing board student members select six of the 12 semifinalists for further consideration by the SBE
  • The SBE uses the annual Student Advisory Board on Education, or SABE, conference to perform this function.
  • Twelve semifinalists must attend the Student Advisory Board on Education (SABE) Conference.
  • Semifinalists will participate in all SABE activities.
  • Semifinalists will make individual presentations to all other SABE participants about their interest in, and qualifications for, the student member position.
  • Following a secret ballot by the SABE participants, the names of six candidates will be submitted for further consideration by the SBE’s Screening Committee.
  • The decision of the SABE participants is final.
  • Each of the final six candidates will be interviewed by the SBE’s Screening Committee.
  • The Screening Committee will recommend three finalists to the SBE.
  • Following the Board’s action to select the three finalists, the names of the three finalists will be sent to the Governor.
  • The SBE’s recommendations to the Governor are final. Interviews and the selection of three finalists will occur before and at the SBE’s November meeting.
  • Representatives of the Governor will interview the three finalists, probably in the late spring or summer.
  • One of the finalists is be appointed by the Governor to be the Student Member.

 

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